Solitary Confinement: Not Just a Black Man’s Problem

In a special report released on April 22, 2015, Juan E. Mendez, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, found that prolonged solitary confinement (in excess of 15 days) is torture. This torture happens EVERY DAY in the United States. And in the state of New York, there are no limits on the total time a person can spend in isolated confinement. To make it worse, Black people represent about 60% of people in solitary. Mass incarceration is far more reaching that just police brutality-it includes these finger like systems meant to target people of color and the poor.

There’s something missing in all of these reports on solitary confinement-the high population of women of color and trans women of color placed in solitary for way more than 15 days (some have been in for more than 2 decades). Pregnant women and new mothers are often placed in solitary confinement, and trans folk are often sent there “for their own protection.” This population also suffers additional abuse from staff while in prison. Solitary confinement has the worst effects on our most vulnerable populations, and these stories need to be elevated at the same level as stories coming from men of color.

We can go even deeper into this issue. Many organizations commit to ending the school-to-prison pipeline, but there’s a similar issue that is rarely talked about-the sexual abuse-to-prison pipleline, which disproportionately effects girls of color and LGBTQ teens of color. A study released in 2015 revealed that girls who are sent into the juvenile justice system have typically experienced overwhelmingly high rates of sexual violence.The most common crimes for which girls are arrested (running away, substance abuse, and truancy) are also the most common symptoms of abuse. And these same girls are funneled into a system that continues to abuse them and retraumatize them. Since children or those with mental illness are disproportionatley placed in solitary (again, for their own well being), I can’t even imagine what this type of torture does to a young, undeveloped mind. The most vulnerable populations reported severe emotional and psychological consequences, including self-harm and attempted suicide.

Take a step further. These same individuals are then released into the community with exacerbated trauma symptoms, and with little exposure to the world outside of prison. The period immediately after release is when girls are at the highest risk of recidivism and serious harm, and reentry services are rarely, if at all, provided. This is a mental health crisis. This is a juvenile justice crisis. This is a women’s rights crisis. This is a LGBTQIA crisis. This is a racial justice crisis. When we are fighting to end mass incarceration, we have to attack this huge monster from every angle; from brutality in the streets to the ongoing violence that happens behind those bars; from the school system to the capitalist system; from mi barrio a tu barrio. To bring an end to these injustice systems, we need to center our movements around the most vulnerable and oppressed.

When we do this, we will win.

solitary confinement72
Artwork by Laura Wilson

Are you as angry as I am, and want to get involved? GO YOU!
Check out New York Campaign for Alternatives to Isolated Confinement if you’re in NY state.
And if you’re in Albany, NY check out Capital Area Against Mass Incarceration, which is a group dedicated to dismantling the injustice systems.
For other states that are fighting against torture, check out:

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